Short Fiction: The Phone Call


The phone rang, and from sleep I answered it mechanically.
“Is that Mr Spengler?” a scratchy line enquired.
“Yes,” I replied, hesitantly.


The voice continued, and I quickly realised it had neither the robotic, Asian idiom of an Indian call centre trying to sell me financial services, nor the chummy Northern vowels of the British equivalent.

“This is The Salter Programme.” The voice was British, educated, with a working class burr. “I am calling from Tokyo, and want to inform you that your film script ‘Indivisible’ has been selected to be supported by our cultural exchange programme.”
The man paused, expecting some enthusiastic response. I disappointed him by saying, “That’s nice.”

I had had too many false dawns to squeal in childlike ecstasy over news that did not immediately put money in my purse. In fact, I had already decided that this was probably some sort of mistake. This unknown voice would say I was short-listed, and in a week or two I would receive an email informing me that although my work was of a very high standard I had not been selected as a finalist.

The man at the other end pushed on. “We are sending you a business class return ticket, flying with our sponsor Tokyo Airlines, to come out and attend our training camp where you will meet your mentors prior to the casting and budgeting of your work.”

There it was: vague promises of something that would never materialise – ‘budgeting’, ‘training’, but inevitably no mention of actual money.

“When does this take place?” I queried.
“We need you here the end of next week.”
“What?! Well, that won’t be possible. I have some important meetings scheduled then,” I lied.
“You’ll have to cancel the meetings. In your application process you stipulated that you were available to receive this prize. And anyway we are financing the film. What do you need to do more meetings for?”

The logic was inescapable. I was cracking. I could feel my pulse beating and butterflies forming in my chest. What did this mean? Did he really say “financing the film”? Had I finally broken through the glass ceiling? Not the gender one, but the one that faced all truly talented people. Could it be that an outsider to the industry, and one who refused to indulge in any networking, could possibly succeed? And succeed on his own merit – on the quality of his creative prowess alone?


This man was still talking. I just listened. It was like a trickle which had become a torrent. The dam had burst. He was opening up too. He was revealing himself. People only opened up in this industry when they were sure they would be working with the person they were opening up to.

I was right about his nationality; he was a Mancunian and had graduated from University there in the mid 90s with a degree in Politics, Economics and Film Studies. After graduating he had worked his way up in media funding bodies in Europe, while developing his interest in Japanese cinema. I sensed he had been a left-wing radical at college, and saw something in the Oriental, collective mindset that fed into his personality and political way of thinking. It helped that he had a Japanese girl-friend who had switched him onto the stories of Haruki Murakami and the films of John Woo, at the same time as a hitherto unknown video store assistant in Manhattan Beach, California, called Quentin, was discovering them for himself. It was a matter of Zeitgeist, and being in the right place at the right time, and he had ridden the wave straight to the Zenith of Japanese film-funding programmes. And now he helmed The Salter Programme and his vote was what counted with the executive board. His decisions had all been vindicated. He and his programme had been instrumental in the careers of Chad Stevens and The Tokyo 6, not to mention The Takane Twins who still graciously thanked him in all of their end credits.

The Mancunian pulled out of his self reflection with a sudden bold statement: ‘Indivisible’ was what he had been waiting for; it tapped into his psyche, creatively, emotionally and socio-politically. He got it. He really got it. He wanted to meet me and shake my hand, because I was going to be big, maybe even as big as Quentin, maybe bigger (although that, I suspected, was beyond the bounds of human possibility). He was just glad to be playing his part.

For all great, radical film makers, the road to success was paved with rejection and disrespect. This I knew. But there had to be a break sometime. As long as you were persistent. As long as you kept getting back up and dusting yourself down, and learning from your mistakes. As long as you weren’t deluded…

His enthusiasm was seeping into me like a hot summer’s day after a long hard winter. It sucked me up and carried me aloft, and my mind, long closed to dreams of fame and fortune, now dilated into the image of an immense golden sunflower preparing itself to pollinate the world. And, as if to signal this newfound status, there was a trumpet blast from the heavens. It was like a series of rhapsodical French horns rising in a crescendo.

But it just kept growing, booming louder and louder, and shriller and shriller.

My head was vibrating.

I opened my sunflower eyes and realised that the phone was still ringing in my hand. My mouth formed the word “hello”. Only the line was dead.

The ringing was somewhere else. But it wasn’t a ringing. It was a baby crying. It was my baby crying. It was in its cot. That meant one thing.

He was no longer asleep, and my immediate future was changing a dirty nappy.


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